Scientist Spotlight: Cornelia Bargmann, Ph.D

Genes, the environment, and experiences work together to shape animal and human behavior. Cori Bargmann has dedicated her career to studying the relationship between genes, neural circuits, and behavior in C. elegans (a species of worm with only 302 neurons) as the model animal. In her laboratory, she characterizes genes and neural pathways that allow the nervous system to generate flexible behaviors. By using these worms as a model, she is well on her way to discovering causes of neurological disorders such as autism and Alzheimer’s.

Bargmann received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Georgia and went on the study at M.I.T where she received her Ph.D in biology. Once she completed her post doc with M.I.T professor Robert Horvitz, she reached her first breakthrough, that the nematodes that she studied have a sense of smell. Having this information, she could begin to uncover how different scents in the worms environments shape their behavior.

She currently works at Rockefeller University where she continues her research on nematodes and behavior. In a recent paper, she uses her worms to shed light on the biology of individualism and how, by looking at worm behavior we can begin to look at how human genes shape who we are. The lab is currently studying how neuromodulatory systems affect the flow of information between neurons across different time scales.

Bargmann has won many notable awards including the election into the National Academy of Science, Kavli prize in neuroscience (2012), and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences (2013). She continues to strive for research excellence and leads her laboratory in more behavioral science breakthroughs. Her work continues to help explore neurological disorders and assists other researchers in finding cures.